History and Purpose of IDEA – Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

The Legal Powerhouses of Teacher Implementation

Teachers who believe that students with special needs can be educated in the classroom don't need IDEA mandates to provide a

Acting on IDEA

quality education and accountability for maximized student academic and behavioral performance. However, in many classrooms mandated to serve the educational needs of students with disabilities, laws are needed to insure that IEPs (Individual Education Plans), 504 accommodations and ADA (American With Disabilities Act) programs and services are equitable and implemented consistently in meeting their educational needs and goals.

The following three “legal powerhouses of legislation” were enacted into law to govern and prescribe expectations for educational compliance in serving students with disabilities:

  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 1997
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) of 1990

Introduction Timelines

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Students with 504 plans are not mandated for IEP educational services like students with disabilities identified under IDEA. However, students with 504s can receive educational modifications and accommodations in instructional design and expectations. Examples include providing assistive technology devices such as voice activated software if needed during the duration of the 504 implementation for that student or providing extra time to complete homework assignments and assessments.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990

The ADA legislation provides disability provisions beyond Section 504 for students with disabilities to access programs and public services beyond the traditional school community. For example, students who need accommodations to access a prescribed afterschool “Vocational Program” who are wheelchair bound or needing other assistive orthopedic devices to maneuver from a vehicle or public transportation must be accommodated under ADA. The accommodation could include building ramps to the front or side door of the building to installing lift equipment to transport the student down a set of stairs within that building.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) 1997

Students are guaranteed by law an educational plan and instructional implementation that are free, equitable and accessible. FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) provides mainstream education for identified students 3-21 in the least restrictive learning environment (LRE) who are eligible for prescribed special education services under IDEA. Students identified with disabilities are provided with an IEP (Individual Education Plan) using diagnostic assessments and intervention feedback to construct specially designed instruction for their academic and behavioral success.

Does It Meet the Legal Mandate of Inclusion Today?

IDEA and section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act are the two federal mandates that provide legal direction in the education of students with disabilities. Although neither law includes a specific requirement dictating inclusion in regular education classrooms, the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) placement in both assumes a regular mainstream classroom placement for students in special education classifications.

  • The legal mandates around IDEA and the 504 Act require that students with disabilities be placed in an appropriate learning environment that best fits their individual educational needs. For example, a student in an EBD (Emotionally/Behaviorally Disabled) classroom who receives an integrated academic program within a structured learning environment that includes a behavioral management program, may not find a “least restrictive environment” in a regular education chemistry classroom. The structured nature of a chemistry classroom where performance based assessment and active learning engagement are the norm may not be the best placement for an EBD classified student with severe behavioral disabilities and attention deficit issues.
  • The educational placement intent of IDEA and 504 requires that school communities seek an inclusive education for students with disabilities, but only if that inclusion meets the IEP (Individualized Education Program) and learning needs of the individual student. In many classrooms, inclusion is multi-faceted and multi-leveled for many special education students. Inclusion ranges from total inclusion in regular education classes with tutorial or Instructional Assistant and Special Education teacher support and assistant within the class, to partial inclusion in some classes like PE (Physical Education), elective classes (Art/Drama) or occupational classes (Technology).

Inclusion in regular education classes for students with disabilities is driven by the student’s IEP needs. The intent of IDEA and 504 is to provide educational placements in regular education classrooms while meeting the individualized learning needs of each student. By creating inclusion in a regular education learning environment that addresses the academic, social and behavioral needs of students with disabilities, inclusion becomes the norm in the “least restrictive environment” placement.

In conclusion, the three legal powerhouses have been designed to provide equitable and accessible education for students with disabilities. Teacher philosophy and belief systems aside, IDEA, Section 504 and ADA provide the mandates for instructional inclusion for students who are most vulnerable in education communities, but it is the teachers who provide the heart and spirit of active implementation of the laws in maximizing the educational needs of students with disabilities.

References and Resources

Americans With Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, from the website of the University of Washington.